At once gesturally charged and aesthetically elusive, Untitled is an emphatic testament to the searing brilliance of Christopher Wool’s anarchic painterly enterprise. Emblazoned across the aluminum expanse, the calligraphic chaos of Wool’s tangled enamel lines fuses entropic energy with commanding graphic force, simultaneously validating and annihilating presumed boundaries between image and mark with equal intensity. Executed in 1995, a pivotal moment in Wool’s celebrated artistic practice, Untitled is a masterpiece from Wool’s iconic ‘Spray’ paintings’ created using a large spray gun and liquified enamel paint, the Spray paintings are in every way exemplary of Wool’s specialized approach to painterly mark-making. While Wool’s graffiti-esque line powerfully evokes a post-Punk urban sensibility, the painting is simultaneously a monumental essay on lightness and abstract fluency, the sinuous curves of shimmering enamel appearing to hover upon the alabaster surface. Describing the artist’s practice in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, critic Glenn O’Brien describes: “Wool’s line is drastic, edgy, and anarchic. Sometimes it has a sort of nuclear center, orbiting a ground zero in mid-canvas, while other times it’s like tracks of weird subatomic particles skidding through a cloud chamber… it begins with the line, never a straight line, or the shortest distance between two points, but a careening, tortuous, insane line, an unmeasured distance between here and wherever.” (Glenn O'Brien, "Apocalypse and Wallpaper," in Hans Werner Holzwarth ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 13) Upon close inspection, the ghostly imprint of Wool’s signature floral patterns is visible below the looping coils of black laid overtop; although seemingly erased by a layer of white, their silhouette gleams through, achieving the Baroque elegance of a shrouded sculptural relief. Combining the entropic gesture of Abstract Expressionism with the inward-looking reduction of Minimalism, the ready-made immediacy of Pop with the intellectual piety of Conceptualism, Untitled disrupts and manipulates art historical precedent with exhilarating nonchalance.
Vibrating within the crisp confines of the aluminum support, the gleaming skeins of enamel spray within Untitled pulse with the emphatic vitality and raw, barely contained vigor that mark the very best of Wool’s radical painterly oeuvre. Initiated in 1995, the Spray paintings are among the most succinct summations of Wool’s rigorous artistic project; composed of sprayed, tangled lines upon the surface and highly liquefied paint dripping down from the initial mark with casual ease, Untitled choreographs an exhilarating collision between mark and mistake, beauty and defacement, chaos and grace. Achieving a distinctly post-Punk attitude of intentional indifference, the slick coils and drips of Untitled powerfully invoke the gritty crucible of 1990s downtown Manhattan in which Wool began his practice. Representative of an era defined by the disruptive energy of the Punk and New Wave scenes, Wool’s paintings challenge theories of postmodern painting to present the viewer with a singularly engaging and rigorous conceptual experience. Like hastily stenciled graffiti or heralded tabloid headlines, Untitled summons the industrial severity of the urban environment: indeed, reveling in the rhythmic intensity of calligraphic rebounds, Wool’s rebellious lines powerfully evoke the iconic markings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist similarly influenced and inspired by the guttural, adrenalizing energy of downtown New York in the last decades of the Twentieth Century. While Basquiat developed an explosive, street-art inspired symbolic vernacular, however, Wool pursued the equally exhilarating possibilities of abstraction. Scholar Madeleine Grynsztejn describes: "Spontaneous mark-making veers towards image, approaches language, and devolves into shape again in a purposeful fluctuation that steadfastly refuses resolution. The whole space of the painting crackles… Wool improvises with the elements of painting, infusing these works with an irrepressible vitality, pictorial savvy, and beauty." (Madeleine Grynsztejn in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 1998, pp. 269-270) Simultaneously invoking the calligraphic familiarity of Twombly’s looping blackboard scrawls and the biomorphic minimalism of Marden’s sinuous networks, Wool takes their projects one step further by infusing abstraction with the gritty vitality of the streets.
Looping exuberantly across, over, and around the confines of the aluminum support, the riotous curves and drips of Untitled pivot upon a spectacular tension between spontaneous line and modeled form, achieving among the most elegant distillations of Wool’s particular investigation of the painterly medium. Throughout his career, Wool has explored a mutating, visually arresting landscape of seemingly mechanical, cipher-like reductions: towering stenciled text, roller-brush wallpaper patterns, and, as beautifully embodied in the present work, spray-paint squiggles mark his most iconic visual motifs. Having developed his practice at the critical height of the Pictures Generation – a group of artists whose appropriation and largely photographic strategies fundamentally undermined the validity of painting in Contemporary art – Wool has set out to prove the critical agency of painting within a set of newly defined parameters. While the monochrome simplicity of Untitled invokes Minimalist reduction, it simultaneously includes overt suggestion of its handmade manufacture, with the luscious drips, fades, and overlaps heavily in evidence. In this way, Wool interrogates not only accepted theories of meaning, content and artistic authenticity in painting, but also exhibits the act of creation, insistently leaving remnants of the process of its making, such as the luscious drips of ink-like paint in the present work, to designate the hand of the artist. Here, process rather than content reigns supreme. It possesses gestures and impulses that cannot be found in the silkscreened works, Wool’s radical line achieving a weightlessness and expressive abandon evocative of the Action Painters. By obscuring the aesthetic perimeters between the hand-painted and the machine-made, Wool’s Pollock-esque tendrils of black enamel, drawn onto aluminum using a spray gun, embrace the compromised historical narrative of painting as a primary source, then manipulate that legacy to produce a thrillingly subversive masterpiece. O’Brien concludes: “Christopher Wool takes it to the bridge, spanning Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, drama and comedy, funk and the sublime. The emblem of his advanced funkiness is his spray squiggle – with all the innocence of an amateur doodle, yet all the stealth of a master brushstroke.” (Glenn O'Brien, "Apocalypse and Wallpaper," in Hans Werner Holzwarth ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 11)
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